Kingdom is like . . .
Lesson for July 17, 2005 — Matthew 13:9-17By Carmen Andres
A few years ago, I watched The Long Walk Home, a 1990 film about a black maid, Odessa, and her white socialite employer, Miriam, during the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott, organized shortly after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man.
When Miriam learns Odessa walks long miles to work, she offers to drive her. Later, Miriam starts driving other blacks (who depended on the bus system for transportation) to their jobs as well. It’s not long before Miriam is caught between a growing awareness of injustice and the wrath of friends and family who are adamantly against social change. Her turmoil grows until, at the film’s end, Miriam passes through an angry, threatening white mob — which includes friends and family — to stand beside their targets: Odessa and other blacks.
As I watched them stand together — black and white — singing a hymn over angry taunts and raised fists, it dawned on me: This is what God’s kingdom looks like. To this day, that final scene challenges me: Am I advancing the kingdom, or fighting it?
Stories — written, visual or oral — can be powerful. The good ones give expression and meaning to concepts that are often hard to articulate. The really good ones call us to examine ourselves and our beliefs. As Christians, this is a must. And we take our cue from Jesus, who used stories for the same reason.
Why do you tell stories?
Jesus told stories to bring to light hidden things (Matt. 13:35). He wanted people to know the nature and availability of God’s kingdom — the way of true life. He used stories, taken from everyday experiences, to deepen and enrich concepts often made esoteric. Frequently, that concept was God’s kingdom. Most of the people in the crowds had their own ideas of what that would look like. For many, it didn’t look like Jesus.
Jesus knew his stories would cause people to make a decision about the kingdom. Some would get what he was talking about — and want to know more. “Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely” (Matt. 13:12, Message). Their hearts are open and seeking God, and as a result they have “God-blessed eyes — eyes that see! And God-blessed ears — ears that hear!” (Matt. 13:16, Message).
Others, however, wouldn’t understand a thing: “But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears” (Matt. 13:12, Message). They don’t get it because their “heart has become calloused” (Matt. 13:15, NIV). Perhaps they had already made up their minds about Jesus or God. Maybe they just wanted to do and see things their own way.
Jesus pulled examples from things his audience was familiar with (farming, banking, merchant businesses) and used them to illustrate the true nature of God and his kingdom. Confronted with these truths, Jesus knew, depending on the condition of their hearts, people would either ask for — and receive — more, or turn away.
Sacred eyes and ears
We, too, can use stories the way Jesus did. Our own lives and vocations, like those in Jesus’ audience, are rich with examples and stories of how God works. Books, television and films (like The Long Walk Home) also provide powerful images and stories that reflect spiritual and biblical truths. Even the news — the desperate search for a child lost and then found in the Utah mountains, for example — can give us moving insights into God and his love.
If we keep our hearts open to God and ask for God-blessed eyes and ears to learn more about him and his kingdom, he will reveal to us more than we can imagine. And we can use that, like Jesus, to share the kingdom with people around us. Perhaps many won’t get it, but some will.
Carmen Andres, of Montgomery, Ala., is a former editor of The Christian Leader, the magazine of the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.
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